Lower Canada: 1763-1867

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Note: our homeland will not exclusively be called "Lower Canada" from 1763 to 1867, I use it here as a generic term. In fact, the land will change names three times: it is first called "Province of Quebec", and then "Bas-Canada" (Lower Canada) in 1791 and finally "Canada-uni" (United Canada) from 1840 to 1867.

1763: Signature of the treaty of Paris that concedes all of French North America to Great Britain, with the exception of the Saint-Pierre and Miquelon islands. The Test Act is established to keep the French-speaking Catholics from holding government office. The territory is considerably reduced.

In October of the same year, London issues its «Royal Proclamation», thus allowing French-speakers to practice their religion. But Great Britain lets governor Murray know of its plans to found Protestant schools to assimilate the population. The proclamation also wants to replace the old French civil code of law by the British Common Law. Governor Murray judges this measure unrealistic and decides to keep the French civil laws.

1765: 95 Canadiens sign a petition, asking that justice be rendered in French, that the king's orders be given in French and that Canadiens be allowed to act as jurors and lawyers.

1766: The first to gain from the conquest are the English and American merchants who completely take control of all the economic activity of the colony. The first Governor, James Murray, writes "this is the most immoral collection of individuals I have ever known. Nothing will satisfy these fanatics who control the commerce aside from the expulsion of the Canadiens, whom constitute the bravest and perhaps best race of the globe!" The merchants will finally have his head and Murray will be replaced. He finally writes "I leave a country and a people that I sincerelly love".

Governor Murray
1766: Monseigneur Briand is the first Catholic bishop to return to the colony. His goal : to preach submission to the new authorities.

1767: The Sulpiciens open the future Collège de Montréal, the Ursulines of Québec start teaching once more.

Gouvernor Carleton
1774: Following Governor Carleton's recommendations, London votes the Quebec Act. Its purpose is to appease and conciliate the Canadiens so they will not join the Americans in their revolution against Great Britain. Québec's territory is enlarged to include the Ohio Valley and the Great Lakes. The Test Act is changed: Catholics will now be allowed to hold government office, provided they take a special oath of allegiance to the British crown (which still exists for our federal elected officials). The text says nothing about the status of French or English in the colony.

1774 : The Americans of the 13 colonies are outraged because the Quebec Act stopped their westward expansion and allowed French Roman Catholic institutions in Quebec. These are some of the reasons (along with taxes considered too high) why Americans start their revolution. They send agitators and try to convince les Canadiens to join them in their revolution, while the local catholic church takes the side of the English. The inhabitants will finally choose to remain neutral during the conflict. American troops begin preparing an attack to capture Montréal and Trois-Rivière.

1775 : The bust of George III which had been unveiled in the Place d'Armes, in Montréal, on October 7, 1773, is vandalized to denounce the Quebec Act. "Here is the pope of Canada and the English fool" is written on its base.

Le Continental Colors américain 1775: The «Bastonnais» (name given to the american rebels by the Canadiens) attempt to conquer Québec by force of arms. In September, they attack St-Jean fort and defeat the british army. On September 12th, Montréal surrenders and officially becomes an american city. The new occupants esablish their H.Q. in Ramezay castle (that still stands in the heart of the Old Montréal). The English seek refuge inside the walls of Québec city, and the Americans soon follow to siege the city. It is during the night of December 31st that famous generals Montgomery and Arnold lead an assault against the basse ville. They are defeated and Montgomery is killed. It is the beginning of the end for the american occupation. As a matter of fact, they will evacuate the territory in June of 1776. The die has been cast, Canada will remain british.
1778: Publication of the first French-only newspaper: La Gazette littéraire de Montréal.

1782 : the Treaty of Paris recognizes the independence of the United States of America (formerly the 13 Colonies). Québec loses the Ohio valley and many American settlers, wishing to remain loyal to the crown of England (the 6000 Loyalists) flee the new country and move north towards Canada. From that moment, the inhabitants of Canada will no longer be exclusively Natives and French-speakers, for better and for worse, they will now have English neighbors. But it is important to remember that, for more than a century, the French-speakers will remain the only ones to call themselves "Canadiens".

1783: England is forced to sign a peace treaty with France and Spain, thus recognising United States independance. This signature occurs during the preparations of a French military expedition. Under the command of Lafayette, its objective was to reconquer Canada and Jamaica with the help of the Spanish.

Lower Canada

The new English settlers are immediately displeased with this "all-too French Canada" and reject the seigneurial regime and the French laws. They demand a seperate district. Thus begins a long power struggle that still exists today. Canada is finally separated in two; Upper Canada (now Ontario, about 10,000 inhabitants) and Lower Canada (now Québec, 150,000 "habitants").

The Anglais want everything!
1791 : The British parliament votes the Constitutional Act which allows us our first elected house of representatives, but sadly, one without any real power. It is the first version of a Canadien constitution. Great Britain allows the elected Canadiens to use French in parliement and in the assembly's journal .

Première assemblée du Bas-Canada
1792 : The first elections in Quebec history are held. The Lower Canada assembly is composed of 35 elected Canadiens and 15 elected English (despite the fact that the population is 95% Canadien). Jean-Antoine Panet is elected President of the assembly, despite British opposition. Immediately, the two groups collide and disagree on about everything. The governor, at the demand of the English deputies, declares that the laws will be written exclusively in English. The Canadiens are outraged.

In this fake democracy system where French is no more than a language for translation, the governor and the legislative and executive councils (not elected) reject all the Canadien initiatives. The political dead end is complete and will last 50 years.

1800 : The Canadien people, in great part a rural society, is getting poorer. Since the conquest, only an elite minority of Canadiens can read and write. Those who are not farmers are exploited as cheap labour by rich english merchants that come here looking for a quick way to make a fortune. The once intrepid "coureurs des bois" become bûcherons (lumberjacks), scieurs de bois (wood cutters) or raftmen. The wood industry becomes the largest economic activity of the colony, since England desperately needs wood to build new ships in its war against Napoléon. The raftmen (like the legendary Joe Montferrand) must direct huge rafts made of tree trunks on the waters and rapids of the St-Laurent river, from the wilds of Hull to the port of Québec. It is extremely dangerous work. Fragile hearts need not apply.

A group of Canadiens will even send a letter to Paris, asking Napoléon to come free Canada from the British yoke. The letter will remain unanswered.

1800: Many Canadiens are hired by the Northwest Company to transport furs and passengers between Montréal and the company's fur outposts in the West. They become known as " Voyageurs ". The unions (sometimes permanent, sometimes temporary) between these courageous Voyageurs and Native women in the West will give birth to a new people : the Métis. French becomes the language of the West. Many of these French-speaking Métis will establish themselves in the actual Manitoba, in the Rivière Rouge area.

1802: Joseph Quesnel writes his first play: «L'anglomanie ou le Le dîner à l'angloise» (Anglomania or the English dinner).

1805: The rich British merchants of Québec city found the newspaper «Quebec Mercury»: its mission is to ensure the supremacy of the British oligarchy. The following year, Pierre Bédard reciprocates by founding «Le Canadien», to defend the interests and the rights of the French-speaking Canadiens.

1810 : The «Le Canadien» newspaper, (founded in 1806) in retaliation to other English newspapers that denounce the presence of Canadien culture and demand assimilation, publishes a series of articles that denounce the governing minority. The governor orders that the newspaper be seized and that the staff, reporters and owner be thrown in jail.

1812: The U.S. declare war on England and the Canadiens get ready to defend themselves. Americans launch an attack on Upper Canada from Detroit.

Bataille de Châteauguay
1813 : During the war that opposes England to the United States, the Americans attack Lower Canada! As they walk towards Montréal, they are intercepted in Châteauguay by a group of volunteers called "Les Voltigeurs canadiens". Once more and for the last time, the Americans fall back.

1815: Louis-Joseph Papineau, leader of the parti réformiste, occupies the charge of president of the legislative assembly until 1837.

1820: English merchants elaborate a project of union of the two Canadas. According to it, onle English should be recognised and to be a member of the Assembly, a person should have a property worth at least 500 pounds. Louis-Joseph Papineau and John Neilson oppose the project and 60 000 people sign their petition. London gives will take their side in 1823.

1824: A law ot encourage the opening of parsh schools marks the beginning of a confessional school system.

1825 : The Lachine canal is finally finished and allows boats to reach the west without having to go through the rapids.

1826: Papineau's Parti réformiste becomes the Parti patriote.
1829: McGill University is founded, the first university in Canada.

After 1830, wheat production in Lower Canada declined to the point where it became necessary to import the cereal from abroad. Soil depletion and outmoded methods were the main problems, but the overpopulation of the seigneuries only made the situation worse.

James McGill

1831: For the first time, a steam boat crosses the Atlantic. It is the «Royal Williams», built in Québec City.

1831-1865: During this period, the population of Montréal is mainly English-speaking.

1832 : Again, the elections. In Montréal, during a patriotic political reunion, the british army opens fire on the unarmed crowd, wounding several people and killing three.

1832 : The Legislative assmbly of the Bas-Canada, with Papineau at its head, votes a law that protects the rights of Jewish citizens. It will take 25 years to see England and its other colonies adopt similar resolutions.

1832-34 : The governor, wishing to see these troublesome francophones become a minority, calls for a massive wave of anglophone immigration. These new immigrants, mostly Irish fleeing hunger and misery, come here hoping to find happiness. Contrary to the English and Scottish immigrants, they are poor and cross the ocean in terrible conditions. They bring with them a terrible didease; "le choléra". The results are an epidemic that kill 10 000 people in a single year.

1834: Slavery is abolished in all British colonies.

In the Assembly, the Parti Canadien opposes the initiatives of the British Party (also known as the «Château Clique»). This Party, made up of rich English merchants, desire laws to promote business (and their wallets), the assimilation of the French and the union with Upper Canada. Despite their small numbers, they controlled the executive and legislative councils. The Parti Canadien (or Parti Patriote) demands responsible government, protection of French culture and an elected legislative council.

1834 : Ludger Duvernay (who's portrait is on the right) founds la Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste, a nationalist society who's goal is the protection of the Canadiens' rights as a people. In these early days, before each reunion, members sang nationalist Canadian songs while Upper Canada still sang "God save the Queen". It is important to see that what was then a Canadien, is now called a Québécois. They are one and the same, only the name has changed. It is also Duvernay who will give a patriotic meaning to the Saint-Jean-Baptiste celebration.

1834: Fantastic victory of le Parti Patriote at the elections. Their leader is Louis-Joseph Papineau. He sends to London a list of 92 resolutions to solve the current political dead-end that plagues the colony. He asks that true power be given to the elected assembly. All his requests are completely rejected. The Canadiens deputies start a massive boycot of all British products. All wear nothing but locally-made garments, like those traditional coats called "la canadienne".

Ludger Duvernay
1836: The first railway is built to connect the cities of La Prairie and Saint-Jean.

1837-38 : After all attempts to peacefully solve the situation fail, the Canadien people revolt. It is la Rébellion des Patriotes. After a victory in Saint-Denis, the rebels are crushed by the british army. The movement leaders are hanged in public. Once again, the Canadiens taste defeat. The destiny of their people still evades them.

1837: Publication of the first canadian novel titled «Le chercheur de trésors ou l'influence d'un livre» written by Philippe Aubert de Gaspé, son. Despite the high quality of the book, its publication goes largely unnoticed because of the political events rocking the country.

United Canada

1839: London sends Lord Durham to study the situation in Lower Canada and offer a solution. After a short investigation, he reveals the fruit of his work, the Durham report. In this report, he praises the superiority of the English, and recommands the assimilation of the francophone population... for their own good! He believes that the union of both Canadas, plus a strong anglo-saxon immigration, would ensure a peaceful assimilation of the francophones.

1840: Following the recommendations of the Durham report, the Act of Union is adopted in London and unites Upper and Lower Canada into one single province: «United Canada». The colony is given one legislative assembly with 42 elected members from Canada West (Ontario 400,000 people) and 42 elected members elected from Canada East (Québec 600,000). The debts of the colonies are merged, despite the fact that Lower Canada's were substancially lower. English is made the only official language of the assembly.

This system that allows the same number of elected members to both linguistic groups appears to recognise the equality of both founding nations. But its true goals are far less noble, it simply allows the Englsih to control the assembly despite their minority status. In fact, the rules will later be changed once the English do become the majority following the «Rep by Pop» principle.

1840-1850: Because of the economic crisis, 40 000 French Canadiens immigrate to the United States.

1840: Joseph Casavant sells his first organ. His sons, Claver and Samuel, will later found the company «Casavant Frères» in Saint-Hyacinthe. Casavant organs have acquired a great reputation over the years and are present in several churches all over the world.

1841: Public Instruction Bill: beginning of a real school network, creation of the first school boards (in 1842, only 4.4% of chilfren attend school).

1841: On May 17th, in Québec City, an avalanche crushes Petit-Champlain street, destroying 9 houses and causing the death of 39 people.

1842: Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine fights for the use of French in parliement. Étienne Parent denounces the anglicisation policies of the British authorities.

1842 : Renown British writer Charles Dickens visits Montréal and Québec.

1845 : Historian François-Xavier Garneau publishes the first history of Canada.

L.-H. Lafontaine
1848: The alliance between the Canada West reformers of Robert Baldwin and the Canada East reformers of Louis-Hyppolite Lafontaine leads to the introduction of responsible government. From now on, the governor is simply the representative of the British monarch and holds no real power.

1849: The assembly votes the Rebellion Losses Bill that compensates people who have suffered property damages during the 1837-38 rebellion in Lower Canada. English Tories, opposed to this law and to the responsible government system, burn down the Parliament in Montréal during a riot.

1851: Britain transfers control of the postal system to Canada.

Fire of 1849
1850-1940: The Great Exodus. During this period, around 900 000 French Canadiens leave Canada for the United States.

1851: For the first time, the population of Canada-West (Ontario) surpasses the one from Canada-East (Québec).

1852 : Creation of the Université Laval, first French-speaking institution of higher learning on the continent. It receives its Royal charter on the 8th of December 1852.

1852: Construction of the first covered ice ring in the world in Québec city by the «Quebec Skating Club».

1854 : The seigneurial regime is officially abolished.

1855: For the first time since the conquest of 1760, a French boat enters the St-Laurent river. It is the frigate «La Capricieuse» that enters the port of Quévec city. This visit causes a very big reaction among all Canadiens-Français. The port and piers, along with all points of the city that offer a view on the river, are invaded by an enormous crowd who, at the sight of the French tricolore flag, starts shouting loud «Hourras!». For them, this is a formidable event, because finally Canada and France will be allowed to have relations between them.

From 1850 to 1860, the province of Canada found itself in a complete political deadlock. In ten years, there were ten different short-lived governments that were unable to retain power. The main parties of Canada East were the Bleus led by George-Étienne Cartier and the nationalist Rouges led by Antoine-Aimé Dorion. In Canada West, there were the Tories led by John A. Macdonald and the Grits led by George Brown. Brown felt that the only way to break the deadlock was to recognize the greater population of Canada West (Ontario) and demanded «Rep by Pop». Dorion
A.-A. Dorion
1857: Queen Victoria designates Ottawa as capital of the Province of Canada. That same year, a man suspected of being the infamous Jack the Ripper is in Montréal.

1860: Opening of the Victoria Bridge that connects Montréal with its South shore.

1863: A coalition was formed between the Tories, the Grits and George-Étienne Cartier's Bleus. This was the first step towards «Rep by Pop» and the federation.

Confederate flag of the South 1861-1865: During the American civil war, the Confederates install a headquarters in Montréal. Many Canadians feared that the United States would vengefully attack British Canada. During the same period, a group of Irish nationalists known as the «Fenians» (who had a great number of supporters among Americans of Irish origin) wanted to capture Canada and use it to force Britain to give Ireland its freedom. The «American threat» became more and more real and many started seeing the union of British colonies as a possible solution.

1867 : Four provinces choose to sign the new federation project; Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Lower Canada that will now be known as la province de Québec. The vote is very close, but finally, the federation passes in Québec (27 for, 22 against). But George-Étienne Cartier, one of the fathers of this federation along with MacDonald, originally saw this as a pact between two people: the French-Canadien and the English. In truth, the deal offers nothing of the sort, and the people of Québec are absolutely not recognised as an equal partner in this deal. Québec is nothing more than a province among four.

These two visions of what Canada should be still clash today. It's the "Québec is a people and a nation different from the rest of Canada" vision versus the "Québec is just a province" one.

The new dominion of Canada knows a new age of prosperity, but the people now refered to as "French-Canadians" do not benefit much from the great games of finance and commerce, and remain a largely exploited work force. To boot, they are now nothing more than a minority in an officially "bilingual" country, where in fact, practice imposes English.

Map of Lower Canada

La province de Québec : from 1867 until today

History of Québécois French

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